Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama/Biden '08

NB: I bumped this so I could add the transcripts of VP nominee Joe Biden from his speech this afternoon in Springfield.

So it's Joe Biden.

I guess I was hoping that Obama would do something to excite and stir things up. Biden is a safe choice. He's got negatives, too (I'm old enough to remember the plagiarism charge from 1987) but overall he's as Establishment Democrat as you could want.

OK, so Obama/Biden '08.

I predicted McCain would pick Rudy!, but after second and third thoughts I'm not so sure. I suppose I'm wimping out after getting pwned by the Biden choice, but I'll keep my second thoughts to myself.

Any guesses?

UPDATE: I am now more surprised and pleased, after hearing a portion of Sen. Biden's speech. Here's a portion, and here's the whole thing.
And ladies and gentlemen, is there no ordinary times, and this is no ordinary election. Because the truth of the matter is, and you know it, that American dream under eight years of Bush and McCain, that American dream is slipping away. I don't have to tell you that.


Ladies and gentlemen, this is no ordinary time. This is no ordinary election. And this may be our last chance to reclaim the America we love, to restore America’s soul. Ladies and gentlemen, America gave Jill and me our chance. It gave Barack and Michelle their chance to stand on this stage today. It’s literally incredible. These values, this country gave us that chance. And now it's time for all of us, as Lincoln said, to put our feet in the right place and to stand firm. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to elect Barack Obama president. It’s our time. It’s America’s time.

And some funny just to show he can dish it out . . .
Ladies and gentlemen, your kitchen table is like mine. You sit there at night before you put the kids -- after you put the kids to bed and you talk, you talk about what you need. You talk about how much you are worried about being able to pay the bills. Well, ladies and gentlemen, that's not a worry John McCain has to worry about. It’s a pretty hard experience. He’ll have to figure out which of the seven kitchen tables to sit at.

And the punch line. . .
[O]f all my years in the Senate, I have never in my life seen Washington so broken. I have never seen so many dreams denied and so many decisions deferred by politicians who are trying like the devil to escape their responsibility and accountability. But, ladies and gentlemen, the reckoning is now. And the reality, the reality is that we must answer the call or we will risk the harshest version and verdict of history. These times call for a total change in Washington’s worldview. These times require more than a good soldier. They require a wise leader. A leader -- a leader who can deliver. A leader who can deliver the change we need.

NPR Stupid

I just heard a report on Saturday's "All Things Considered", and one commentator (I did not catch his name), commenting on the appearance of Obama and Joe Biden in Springfield, IL, mentioned the "body language" of the two men. He seemed to think one could not tell who was the Presidential candidate and who was the VP candidate.


Please, for the love of God, stop.

More Dick Morris On TV, Not Less

I think the Toe Sucker should be on every news show every day from now until the election.
Morris: You saw by these, these ill prepared reactions on Georgia. And you saw what he said today? Obama said that he understood that countries should not invade other countries and we would be in a better position to say that if we had not gone into Iraq.

Colmes: Where is he wrong?

Morris: Where he’s wrong is that we went into Iraq at the invitation of the government. Not as an invasion.

Colmes: We went to Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein. [….]

Morris: We’re in Iraq now at the invitation of the government.

Colmes: They’ve asked us to leave. They said there’s a timeline to get us out.

Morris: We’re in Iraq as a result of a democracy asking for us to come in there. It’s not an invasion. It’s not a takeover. We’re not trying to annex Iraq.

The last two sentences are non sequiturs, but the rest of it is pure comedy gold.

Dick Morris! Dick Morris!

Saturday Rock Show

My college friend Jim mentioned Zebra earlier this week, and I have to admit I had not thought about them in years, even though I own their 1983 debut. In fact, I bought it twice, because I lost my first copy of their CD I bought in the early 1990's. Coming out in 1983, I think their sound was either behind or ahead of the times, and despite heavy rotation on MTV for the video below, and a follow up, "Tell Me What You Want", they never really caught on. To be honest, there are are highlights like "Take Your Fingers From My Hair" and "The La La Song", but the release is pretty uneven, and I think its weaknesses were enough to keep them from breaking. Too bad. They're still around, but stuck in a time warp. This is "Who's Behind The Door":

Friday, August 22, 2008

Variations And Expansions On A Theme

The Obama campaign is not letting up. Three days in a row, a new ad. This one builds on the whole "I don't know how many houses I own. Check with my staff," business. Once something like this has these kinds of legs, it will be impossible to shut it off.

Thank God.

I will repeat myself for those not paying attention.




Bush Backs Obama Plan For Iraq

You just know McCain is screaming into his morning Metamucil:
Republican presidential candidate John McCain prides himself on being gung-ho about pursuing the Iraq war even if it hurts him politically. Recent events in Baghdad threaten to put him still farther out on a limb, however, as the Bush administration works toward a troop withdrawal schedule that is more aggressive than McCain envisions.


Campaigning Thursday in Virginia, Obama said, "They are working on a plan that looks, lo and behold, like the plan that I've been advocating. I will encourage the administration to move forward with it."

McCain campaign spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said, "We're monitoring closely and will have something to say when an agreement is finalized."

Once again, may I just say it . . . McCain is toast.

Some Music For Your Friday Morning

Years ago, my friend Jim recorded portions of Vangelis' Heaven and Hell LP for me. One part of the first section, "Heaven", was adopted by Carl Sagan as the theme music for his PBS special Cosmos. Years went by, and after finally purchasing a CD player, one of the first CDs I purchased was Opera Sauvage by Vangelis. Since then, I have purchased many more, including a "Best of . . ." collection of the three records he did with Yes lead singer Jon Anderson. When I discovered El Greco in the Borders Book Store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago in mid-winter, 2000, I did not realize I had picked up something special. To be honest, I was underwhelmed by The City, and Oceanic had its moments, but was kind of blah.

From the very opening of the first movement of El Greco, however, I knew this was the kind of thing I thought Vangelis should have been doing all along. Here is that first movement. I know it's long - just over ten minutes - please indulge me, indulge yourselves. There is just something transcendent about this opening movement. Like the painter and his works, the work has a beauty that is dark, yet sublime.

For the record, "El Greco" was a nickname. Like Vangelis, "El Greco" was actually a Cypriot of Greek descent.

"We cannot argue anyone into faith in Jesus Christ."

United Methodist Bishop Timothy Whittaker has a great commentary on the question, "Why should I be a Christian?" (Full disclosure, Tim Whittaker was the Richmond District Superintendent who shepherded my wife through candidacy, worked hard for her, and enabled her to get her first appointment, Centenary UMC, Jarratt, VA):
I cannot think of a more challenging question for a Christian. It makes us wonder if we have anything to say to a person who is not a Christian that would at least encourage him or her to consider becoming one. It also makes us think about why we ourselves are Christians.

Whenever we talk with a non-Christian, it is more important to witness than to convince. We should listen to his or her story and, when we hear some question that comes from that person's experience, then we may share how the Gospel of Jesus Christ has enabled us to respond to that question in our own lives.


In the end, ultimately everything is a mystery. Religions always will exist because their response to the mystery of being is to offer another mystery to explain it. There is no escape from being enveloped in mystery, and we who are Christians have discovered that the mystery that makes the most "sense" out of the mystery of being is the mystery of God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.

I invite you to read the whole thing. Consider this as you do. Bishop Whittaker is using what I would consider wonderfully pragmatic ways of understanding Christianity as a way of being human, rather than arguing a position from some set of principles. In acknowledging that the question should force us to examine our own faith life, he surrenders any recourse to doctrine, or the circular "because the Bible says so" apologetics we find too often. We are to look first to the Jesus we encounter in the Gospels, always keeping the discrepancies and differences among them clearly in mind. We are to look at the question, the call, inherent in this encounter not as some bit of intellectual content to which we give assent, but a pragmatic question of whether or not to allow this encounter to change our lives.

I commend Bishop Whittaker as a wonderful example of liberal, pragmatist Christian faith.

Even if he doesn't know it.

Lying Runs In The Family

I heard about the fact that Cindy McCain had lied about the circumstances surrounding the adoption of their daughter. Here's the details.
CNBC (Feb 12, 2000, Tim Russert Interview with the McCains):

Mrs. McCAIN: She's--our daughter Bridget is eight years old. I found her in Mother Teresa's orphanage when she was 10 weeks old in Bangladesh. She has a cleft palate; she had some other problems. And the nuns persuaded me to bring her home, and I did. I--I could do that. I was able to do that. And literally on board the flight home from Bangkok to Los Angeles, not having spoken to my husband, I decided I couldn't c--I had to--I couldn't let her go. I had--she chose me. So she's ours now. I came home and presented my husband with a new daughter that he didn't know he had. [One of several consistent stories prior to this year]

The Sunday Mail (Feb. 3, 2008, Dark past no barrier for Cindy):

``While working at Mother Teresa's orphanage in the early 1990s, I stumbled upon the most beautiful little girl I'd ever seen,'' she said. ``She had a terrible cleft palate. She had problems with her feet. She had problems with her hands. She had all kinds of problems.

``As only Mother Teresa can, she prevailed upon me to take this baby and another baby to the United States for medical care.''

Now that the lie has been called out by The Christian Science Monitor, it has disappeared from the McCain website. See, the McCains never even met Mother Teresa.

Apparently he's only willing not to lie about things he doesn't know, like how many houses he owns. Now, he managed to get his wife in on the act.

Today's The Day (I Think)

Unless my head is truly befuddled, I believe today is the day Barack Obama will announce his choice for a running mate this fall. The press has been all over the map - Bayh! Biden! Richardson! Clinton! - and most of those watching on the sidelines scratch their heads and mutter, "Wha'?" The last time a VP choice really mattered all that much to anyone was 1960, when JFK picked LBJ to balance out his ticket (Dukakis tried to emulate Kennedy in 1988, and elevated Lloyd Bentsen, who had the one moment of real glory for Democrats during the VP debate with the hapless Dan Quayle). Since then, its been a press orgy but not much else.

This year, I think the Democrats understand that the VP stakes are a press priority, so they have been playing it up in order to keep people interested. Since Dick Cheney has been such a vital part of the Bush Administration, many insiders believe the choice of running mate will take on new meaning. I don't think so. Cheney's role was as much eminence gris for the Washington naif W. as anything. Cheney had shown a remarkable ability to play off the bureaucracies against one another in order to get his own way as Ford's Chief of Staff and later as Bush 41's Secretary of Defense. He would grease the squeaky wheels of government for his President, and has been remarkably successful, if somewhat dark and underhanded, about it.

In any event, much of the blogosphere has been abuzz about a possible Obama/Clinton ticket, and I think in many respects it would be a good choice. It does come with a downside (and a real one, not the fake ones the press will explain in exquisite, and false, detail), though, and I believe Obama recognizes that. He's got Sen. and former President Clinton both in his camp now; there seems to be no need to have her on the ticket.

In any event, time will out. I do not believe it will be any of the persons mentioned so far (I forgot Kaine!). In fact, I think Obama is smart enough to know how to do this right (including not telling his staff so the choice isn't leaked before the announcement).

Al Gore, anyone?

Eugene Robinson Wanks Away

I am beating Bob Somerby to the punch, I believe, in what follows. Eugene Robinson's column in today's Washington Post is the kind of fanciful, thoughtless garbage that has, in part, led us to where we are today.
There's a candidate in this presidential race who remains a mystery -- hazy, undefined, so full of contradictions that voters may see electing him as an enormous risk. I'm referring to the cipher known as John McCain.

As you reflect on this opening paragraph, please note a couple facts. John McCain was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1982. In 2000, he ran a media-love-in campaign that was chronicled in depth by all those who just loved traveling on the Straight Talk Express. Indeed, Tim Russert (may he rest in peace) even said that the media was John McCain's base. Eight years later, he is the presumptive Republican nominee for President. Robinson has the temerity, the unmitigated gall, to pen that opening paragraph without once considering the possibility that it was the press corp's job to inform us of the "real" John McCain, rather than fall for his courtship via stroking and joking. It was the job of pundits like . . . Eugene Robinson . . . to cut through the PR and discover that McCain is a short-tempered, ill-mannered, sexist, vulgar guy, inherently disliked by many of his Senate colleagues for his vulgarity-laden attacks upon them. It was the job of both pundits and press corp to make clear what McCain tried to obfuscate, to define in terms of factual information who John McCain is, rather than fall back on "He was a POW!!" all the time.

Read the entire column and remember, the whole time, that McCain has been very prominently before the public's eye for nine years, and then ask yourself this question - if the Eugene Robinson's of this world have failed to deliver the information we need to understand who our candidates really are, then whose fault is it that "we hardly knew" who McCain really is?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I Hate To Say I Told You So . . . (UPDATE)(UPDATE II)

Just watch this add, and consider it has been rolled out one day after the Ralph Reed/corruption ad, and just two days after McCain said he had to check with his staff to see how many houses he owns.

This is what I was speaking of before. This is the kind of smart, fast media campaign Obama will run.

McCain is toast.

UPDATE: Oh, for Christ's sweet sake.
Some of the more optimistic among you are saying that you do think McCain's gaffe will get into Edwards haircut territory in terms of the coverage. Just a small reminder: The Edwards haircut was talked about literally for weeks and weeks, on cable TV and elsewhere, and The Washington Post did something like half a dozen stories on it, if memory serves. Just sayin'.

These liberal concern trolls who demand Obama do something, then when he does it, whine and moan that it just won't work need to STFU. Seriously. For all our sakes. Shut. Up.

UPDATE: What a pathetic excuse for a candidate this guy is.
The McCain campaign is road-testing a new argument in responding to Obama's criticism of his number-of-houses gaffe, an approach the McCain camp has never tried before: The houses gaffe doesn't matter because ... he was a POW!

"This is a guy who lived in one house for five and a half years -- in prison," spokesman Brian Rogers told the Washington Post.

Check This Out - I Started Something!

Click the link, and please note both date and time it was posted.

OK, fine, here it is:

By Deanie Mills - August 20, 2008, 4:28PM

Now, please note the date and time for this post, where I first mentioned my own position vis-a-vis Obama's campaign strategy:
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Posted by Geoffrey Kruse-Safford at 4:56 PM

Just remember, folks. You read it here first. That is, of course, if you read it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Brad Doesn't Like Me

Another shot in to the big-time! Brad at Sadly, No! has done a "shorter" piece on me. On the one hand, I'm honored. On the other hand, I'm sorry to see he didn't actually read what I had written.

Oh, well. Anything to boost the traffic. I will still read them every day.

Evil In Politics

Ever since Reinhold Niebuhr published Moral Man and Immoral Society, clear-eyed Christian political thought has remembered the inherent limitations in any and all social institutions. Rooted in Niebuhr's Lutheran "Two Kingdoms" theology, the work had the merit of reminding Americans that even the best intentioned, most carefully thought-out institution is rooted in the human brokenness we call sin, putting a ceiling on the expectations we should have for serious social reform. I will note that I am not a huge fan of Niebuhr, and even this, certainly his most famous and arguably his most important work, is deeply flawed on a number of levels; nevertheless, I think the core argument on the limitations inherent in social institutions is basically sound, and something of which we should all remind ourselves.

In light of Rick Warren's really stupid question at the Saddleback Church Forum - "Is there evil in this world?" - I think we should take a moment and consider the issue. Ever since 9/11, Pres. Bush has spoken of "evil" and "evildoers", and his cheerleaders in the right-wing have commended him for calling evil by its proper name. For myself, I think it far less obvious that he has done anything important, or even correct. Obviously, the terrorist attacks on that fateful day were acts of evil. Yet, they were hardly less evil than the "collateral damage" our own bombing campaign over Iraq produced. They certainly pale in comparison to the monstrous evil of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the long and torturous fiasco in Vietnam. The list of political evils is long indeed, a list that certainly has American entries on it. Forgetting these at our peril, we pretended to a virtue we cannot possess and to a clarity of moral vision that is always lacking to pride ourselves that our cause was just, and our duty clear.

Discovering and naming "evil" is a child's game, and hardly relevant to the public sphere. While it may be cliche, it is important to remember Hannah Arendt's description of evil in our contemporary world as "banal". The devil does not seduce through corruption and ugliness, but entices through a facade of beauty, ease, and the best intentions. This is another way of saying that naming evil in others is easier than discovering it in ourselves; the latter is far more important anyway.

Politics is a fallen human practice, steeped in the pursuit of power. Even the best governance is inherently flawed; the most earnest pursuit of public welfare tainted by the desire for control. For Warren to as whether evil exists, and if it can be pointed to is a question for a freshman survey class on philosophy; a far better question might have been whether or not the banality of the evil that resides in the contemporary world is clear enough for us to recognize it in ourselves. Pres. Bush may have rallied those who think spotting "evil" is either important or necessary. Warren's question favored such public idiocy. I would much rather banish talk of "evil" from our public discourse than engage in these kinds of frivolous seminars.

More Hyperventilation Treatment (UPDATE with VIDEO!!)

The highly dubious Zogby Poll is out showing McCain with a slight edge over Obama for the first time. Now all the liberals, democrats, and progressives are in a dither. "Attack!! Attack!! Attack!!", "Fight back!!", "Go negative!!". It's all really quite expected. The more I think about what I wrote yesterday about the "rope-a-dope" strategy - and like Ali's use of it against Foreman, it is a dangerous strategy, designed for the long haul - the more I think the analogy is apt.

Then, there is this (yes, it is quite long and detailed, but read the whole thing and digest it):
Obama has a 3:1 lead in field offices, behind in only one battleground state (Florida). His edge in voter contacts - knocking on doors and making phone calls - is maybe 35:1, and that's probably an extremely conservative estimate.


So that's the bet - that Obama can enlarge the core Democratic demographics' percentage of the electorate enough to just overwhelm McCain with numbers. And as Chris Bowers notes, a victory with that coalition could have a galvanizing effect. I truly believe that the coalition Obama is building is more progressive than he is, or than he chooses to be, and the infrastructure is in place to pressure him as President, leveraging all of this support from the grassroots, the millions of people that will be out on the ground on Election Day, to push for a sensible progressive agenda.

One of the biggest whines about liberals and Democrats is that they have not done enough to take the momentum from the popularity and success of various liberal politicians and build a serious progressive coalition. Now, Obama is doing just that through voter registration and voter contact, and these same people are whining because he isn't calling out John McCain on his various lies and ridiculousness. With friends like these . . .

One of the things to remember is that, in all likelihood, Obama (using that rope-a-dope analogy again) will point out that McCain is limiting himself by playing to his obvious strengths - his support among big media pundits and the kind of traditional, character assassination ads that Republicans have used so effectively in the past. Like the kind of thing McCain is trying right now - the whole "celebrity" angle - using Obama's alleged strengths against him, I think Obama will turn around and hit McCain with. My guess is he is hoping that the dividends from such a presentation will pay off bigger returns; my hunch is, he's probably right.

Again, the conventions haven't even been held. In 1996, during the summer doldrums, Bob Dole not only pulled even with, but briefly passed, Bill Clinton in various tracking polls (with a big bump after naming Jack Kemp as his running mate). At this point, the polls really don't mean much; even the spring/summer polls showing Obama with a slight edge were meaningless. While the press has been all over this race for over a year and a half, the American people, quite sensibly, have been living their lives. This fall is soon enough for them to get to know the candidates and make up their minds. My own sense is that Obama will surprise everyone - even me.

PS: While I was writing this and getting all my links together, David Kurtz put this up at TPM. Jesus-Please-Us. For weeks, all these liberal concern-trolls were demanding that Obama go after McCain's recklessness on foreign policy matters; they even went so far as to point out in detail how McCain's response to the dust-up in Georgia was a wonderful case-study in his unfitness for the Presidency. Now, some of Obama's people are doing just that and Kurtz is wondering if it's such a good idea. Apparently, these people are so flummoxed, they don't even realize he is taking some good advice they have been offering for a while.

UPDATE: Now that's what I'm talking about . . .

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Going To The Dogs

ER's granddog takes exception to my refusal to grant the label "cute" to him. Let me show you the photo, before I move on to discuss our own family's canine preferences.

After we were married, Lisa and I discovered we were of one mind when it came to our dog-preferences. We both wanted really big dogs. Our preference was for a Great Dane. When we arrived in Jarratt, VA, we found out one of the members of the church bred them. In late spring, 1995, their old dame, Roxanne, had a litter from which three survived - two black males and a Harlequin female. We were fortunate enough not only to get the female - whom we named Gretchen - but to get the pick of the litter. For an idea of what a Harlequin Dane looks like and her size, here's a picture of a male who, while thicker in the chest than Gretchen (who, while hippie, was also quite dainty rather than bulky across the chest), was bout this size:

After Gretchen's passing in December of 2004, we mourned for about a year, then in February of '06, we found Dreyfus in a private animal shelter in downtown Rockford, IL. Here is a good approximation of Dreyfus today.

Now, Lisa thinks our big-dog days are over. Personally, there are a couple other breeds I would like to have. A Neopolitan Mastiff:

And an Irish Wolfhound:

What say you?

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Via Ezra, we have this nice reality check:
I can’t understand why any Obama supporter would panic at this point. I didn’t vote for the guy because I thought he would breeze into office. I voted for him in no small part because he impressed me as by far the most competent administrator in the primaries. And this view has been vindicated, in my opinion. He’s a good candidate, with good ideas and a lot of money, but he’s also a very good executive running a very tight ship.

If Obama loses this, everyone will say the Dems should have nominated someone else. No way. The fire would have been as hot or hotter for anyone else, and they’d have fallen apart, over-responding and getting lost in the back and forth. If you have any faith at all in the American people, then relax, Obama is going to win this. If you don’t, then you should already be relaxed, because it should always have been clear that the dirtier guy would win.

In contrast, there is this bit of hyperventilating:
[N]o matter whom the Democrats had nominated for president, the GOP slime machine would have spent five months shrieking about them being traitors who want to take away your guns and replace them with bundles of condoms and arugula. Hell, if the Dems had nominated Joe Bleeping Lierberman for president this year, you can just bet that McCain would have smeared him as a self-hating anti-Israel left-winger for some reason or another (seriously, after the wingnuts freaked out about Obama’s horrifying edict that children should learn Spanish, I’ve learned that nothing is too stupid for this crowd).

My question is, where are the spiteful counterattacks? If Obama can be attacked for exercising too much, there’s gotta be something — anything — you can use against McCain. Spite the vote, people! Spite it all the way to victory!

The difference between the two perspectives amounts to more than just a question of "faith in the American people" or whether or not the Democrats are man enough to deal out the crap the way Republicans do. The difference is, quite simply, Obama is banking - and I think correctly - that most Americans just aren't paying that much attention right now. He knows McCain has certain advantages, and is allowing the elderly Senator from the Retirement State to suck a lot of the oxygen from the room. Remember this - last month Obama collected nearly twice what McCain did in donations. Obama has a huge lead in money, and I have no doubt he is husbanding his resources well, waiting until the Olympics are over, both conventions are over, and will then go full-bore.

I also think he is adopting a "rope-a-dope" strategy. I think Obama has known all along the Republicans would go ugly early. Why not accept the inevitable, and let them lash out with all sorts of dirty crap - from the racist "celebrity" ads to questioning Obama's patriotism - and rather than answer blow for blow in the mid-summer heat, just let the tired old guy exhaust himself? Obama understands, I think, a couple advantages that haven't existed in elections in the past couple decades. First and foremost is the lefty blogs. We are all paying attention, and doing everything from debunking bull to making fun of McCain and his penchant for what Huck Finn called "stretchers". Second, and far more important (in my opinion) is Obama's faith not only in the American people, but that the times have changed and the kind of campaign the Republicans have run in the past just doesn't have traction outside the brainless faithful.

That Obama's lead isn't larger, and appears to be shrinking in some states, at this point is meaningless. Remember, McCain has been a Presidential candidate before, and prominently before the American people since the Keating Five scandal of the late-1980's, then later in the late-1990's as he advocated a ground war in Kosovo against the advice of military leaders. Obama is a naif on the national scene, for all the attention he has received. I think Obama is allowing McCain to rant and rave in order for McCain to define himself as the kind of Republican we are tired of. The post-Labor Day campaign has always been far more important, and even though we have the whole 24-hour news cycle and pundits and journalists who spend years of their lives on a single campaign, Obama is trusting that the American people, both far more wise and far more balanced than the typical pundit, will only start paying attention once the summer is over.

So, I think we all should all relax, take some deep breaths, and wait and see. While it is theoretically possible McCain could win, or (a slightly different thing) Obama could lose, my own sense is that Obama will win, handily, with greater majorities for Democrats in both Houses of Congress, ushering in a whole new political and social era in America. The nuttiness on the right will continue to be loud, but it will wield no power, and will be sidelined once again.

A Different Perspective On Saddleback

Conventional Wisdom being what it is, I said yesterday that I accepted the verdict that McCain had "won" (like Iraq, I'm not really sure what "winning" means in this context) at the Saddleback Church forum over the weekend. In keeping with an intention to be fair and balanced, however, I would like to report that not everyone agrees.
McCain did not shine at this religious forum. Although the political pundits ceded him the advantage to his politicking in church, the religious equation is different. For instance, it was remarkable that McCain could speak to a pastor for an hour and not mention Jesus' name once or cite the Bible by chapter and verse. Obama, on the other hand, not only proclaimed Christ his Savior, but quoted scripture knowledgeably. As on other occasions, McCain shows himself to be tone deaf in faith-telling.

On the issue of abortion, in particular, Stevens-Arroyo notes that Obama was far more practical in his approach.
Obama demonstrated a respect for the role of theology, biology and metaphysics in determining precisely when this moment occurred. McCain had no such reserve. For him, the issue was without nuance or tolerance for differing opinions. Obama dwelt on the "pragmatic" side of the issue: What laws, policies and programs can be promoted to reduce the number of abortions? These after all were the steps taken by Clinton that began the downward trend in abortions. McCain reiterated the ideological side: He is against abortion, and like Reagan who saw abortions increase on this watch, did no more than deliver his opinion.

As Alan noted in comments here, the kind of opinion-mongering McCain engaged in is meaningless because Republicans have no intention of doing anything about abortion anyway. Obama's approach - dealing with policy rather than philosophy - might not have been received well at Saddleback, but I am quite sure the message was heard among those listening who are less convinced of either the the answer to the question or the relevance of such opinions to public policy.

In all, I find it interesting that Obama seemed to win on points here, even as McCain seems to be touted as the "victor". The backpedaling on whether McCain was ignorant of the questions beforehand - the whole "cone of silence" nonsense - that both McCain and Warren have been forced to engage in due to revelations that McCain was actually in a car on his way to the church, therefore given the opportunity to hear the questions beforehand is an important factor here. As with much else in this campaign, the usual narratives of McCain's alleged strengths (in this case, his ease in this type of forum; his readiness, even eagerness, to pander to whatever audience he is addressing by telling them what they want to hear) become disadvantages over time as we learn the stories told by McCain and his campaign are untrue. Like the whole "cross in the sand" story, it is a tissue of lies that might benefit him in the short run, but only bite him once it gets out there in the real world.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Nuance Shortage Part II

If there is any less relevant issue this election year than abortion, it might be flag-burning. Although, to be honest, the latter was only relevant because George H. W. Bush was able to make it so. Not only right-wing Christians, but some members of our press corps, however, don't seem to realize that most Americans don't care all that much about the issue anymore. This is one issue that I would like to disappear from our discourse, not because I am afraid of it, but because it just isn't that important in the grand scheme of things.

Yet, over at Time magazine, Nancy Gibbs uses the differing approaches to the issue of Sens. McCain and Obama as a way to write some really silly things.
Watching Barack Obama and John McCain handle pastor Rick Warren's questions about abortion, you could see the whole presidential race in miniature taking shape before our eyes. The clear answer beats the clever one any time ... unless you worry about the chaos that clarity can bring.

How does the clear answer "beat" the "clever" one? Who decides which answer is "clear", which one "clever"? What about the whole question of which answer may just be "correct"? Those would be interesting questions to ask concerning the differing approaches of Obama and McCain. To do that, however, would be to think, and why think when one can simply start painting portraits of the candidates, or (to use Somerby's favorite metaphor) write another chapter in the novel that is our current conventional wisdom on the Presidential campaign?
Before a friendly but still skeptical Evangelical crowd at Warren's Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., on Saturday night, McCain won a roar of approval when Warren asked him at what point a human being gets human rights: "At the moment of conception," McCain replied. The answer was clear, unequivocal and a great relief to restless Republicans who had endured a week of indigestion on the issue.


Meanwhile, Obama offered an artful dodge to the question of when a human deserves rights. "Whether you're looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade," he said. Like many of his responses that night, it was a long, careful, nuanced plowing of middle ground. He did not suggest that the only rights that matter are a woman's over her body. He also affirmed his moral dimensions of the issue: he noted his willingness to limit late-term abortions, provided there is an exception if a woman's health is at risk; and he talked about finding the resources to help women who choose to keep their baby, and about trying to reduce the need for abortions in the first place. It reflected the careful effort Obama has made to reach out to the ambivalent middle, which is reflected in a Democratic Party platform that unequivocally defends the right to legal abortion but also calls for better access to contraception and comprehensive sex education. This is classic "common ground" language designed to break with past orthodoxy and reach out to independents who don't much like abortion but who don't want doctors and patients being carted off to jail for performing or having them.

What follows is an analysis of the murky waters McCain has stirred up by being so forthright. Now, this is all to the good, and Gibbs is correct to point out further down in the article that McCain's position simply ignores the scientific reality that "when life begins" is a debatable issue. Now, one could add that, from at least a Presidential policy stand-point, it is also irrelevant because it is so fettered with unanswered, and unanswerable, questions as to be meaningless. As such, Obama's answer is not only more honest, it has the virtue of being more clever, because it shows his willingness to show he does not believe he is "the Messiah" (a favored right-wing description of Obama). Furthermore, McCain's clear answer shows how little judgment he has, how little he has considered the refusal of reality to fit in with his own clarity, and the dangers inherent in being clear, rather than being right.

While I believe the conventional wisdom that McCain came off in this forum better than Obama, at least to the gathered throng at Saddleback and the conservative Christians who watched and listened intently, is probably true. Yet, I cannot help but feel, in the long run, it will come back to haunt McCain. It is all well and good to be convinced you are right, and to express your beliefs as forthrightly as possible. We aren't electing an Answerer-in-Chief, however, and as the past eight years have demonstrated, constructing policies around one's personal convictions when those convictions happen to be wrong (an putting out all sorts of misinformation to dirty the waters in the public debate) is a recipe for disaster.

Nuance Shortage

I stole the title from Michael Gerson's op-ed in today's Washington Post. Gerson seems to think that Obama's style at the Saddleback Church Forum- which he described as "analyz[ing]" and "wigh[ing" issues rather than "confront[ing]" them - is a detriment. Except that analyzing and weighing issues is a sign a sound judgment and a willingness to keep cool in the face of heated moments. McCain may show a willingness to "confront" issues in a head's down, no-holds-barred kind of way, but this only points out his repeated failures of judgment, his lack of any ability to remain cool in the face of a crisis, and his willingness to shoot from the mouth before giving careful thought to what is really needed in any given policy decision.

The events of the past few weeks have shown the limitations inherent in an approach to issues of the moment that favors confrontation. McCain's response to the war in the Caucusus between Russia and Georgia is "Exhibit A" in any argument that his reflexive desire to use force hurts rather than advances American interests. We have been saddled with a confrontational style for the past seven and a half years, and it has brought nothing but failure, death, and the destruction of any moral authority the United States might once have possessed in the world. The most aggravating thing about events since September, 2001 is that we had the world's sympathy and compassion. Even Iran and Russia expressed official sorrow over the events in New York and Washington. Rather than take those feelings of goodwill and offers of assistance, Gerson was the author of the phrase "axis of evil" and included Iran in it, thus eliminating forever any ability to work with the Iranians on common problems, including militant Sunni ideology represented by al Qaeda. With the "confrontational" approach now being used by the Bush Administration towards Russia, and cheerled by McCain (who wants immediate NATO membership extended to Georgia, a move that would only embolden the Georgians to new and even more stupid military action), we are faced with having our overall military and diplomatic weakness made far worse. We do not have the military capability to deal with the Iraq occupation and our relatively small force in Afghanistan. How in the world, logistically and otherwise, are we going to confront Russia over Georgian aggression? More to the point, why should we? This is no world-historical event taking place, but essentially a border dispute between a small country and its much larger, and near-hegemonic neighbor.

Since the Kosovo air war of the late-1990's, McCain has shown a willingness to expand our military actions in an alarming fashion, against the sound and reasoned judgment of the Defense Department and the military leaders on the ground. His "criticism" of the Bush Administration's approach to Iraq was simple - we didn't go in with more troops, and didn't keep more troops on the ground during the initial phase of the occupation. I would hardly call this "confrontational" approach a case study in sound judgment.

Indeed, there is a nuance shortage in our current conventional approaches to all sorts of issues, whether they be taxes, health care financing and delivery, or foreign policy. Part of the reason Bush is so unpopular and McCain (barring some catastrophe) will lose the election in November is that the confrontational approach to issues displays a lack of understanding, a refusal to take the time necessary to understand that, indeed, reality can be complicated and sometimes even intractable in its refusal to bend to ideological formulas. It might be nice, even somewhat reassuring to some, that there are those who seek high office who refuse to consider all the facts before barreling ahead in this world. Yet, look where it has left us after all this time.

As a kind of postscript, may I just add that I would so love it if the word "evil" could be eliminated from our public discourse.

Music Monday

Showing my age, I suppose . . .

In the booklet accompanying one of King Crimson's many multi-disc sets is a photo from the first-ever show the Discipline line-up did, at a pub called Mole's Club, and standing up front is Curt Smith, who, Robert Fripp helpfully points out, went on to form, with Roland Orzabal, Tears for Fears. I did not know this until a few years ago, but they met while both attending Primal Scream Therapy. Not only the band name, but song titles, including the title cut off The Hurting, "Shout" and a few others, were taken from the lingo of Primal Scream Therapy (John Lennon and Yoko Ono were also devotees, in the early 1970's).

Here's "Mad World", a very synth-pop, 1980's song from their first release:

Along with unleashing Oleta Adams on the world, this next song features the silly words of the outro, "So free her . . ." When I first heard it, I was stunned, because it was such a departure from the title track, "Sowing the Seeds of Love", which in turn was different from the synth-pop of their first two recordings. In fact, the bulk of the tracks have a jazzy/R&B feel to them, especially on side 2. After Songs From The Big Chair, this all seemed quite a departure. One can argue they were changing with the times, or maturing as song-writers/arrangers, or some other reason. I'm not sure what was going on, but I am grateful because this song really is good. It's "Woman in Chains":

Curt Smith left after Seeds of Love, but Roland Orzabal kept on recording, releasing an album in 1993 under the name Tears for Fears, which featured the very danceable, almost anthemic "Break it Down Again". The songs was, in many ways, a return to the kind of synth-pop of the early and mid-1980's:

Smith later rejoined Orzabal and they recorded Everyone Loves A Happy Ending and a live CD.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Four Years Too Late, Jerome Corsi Gets The Smackdown He Deserves

In the late summer of 2004, Jerome Corsi, along with a co-author, managed to get a book published that called in to question the military service of Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry. Since the media was not doing the job of debunking the nonsense of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, and the Kerry campaign was far too slow in reacting to it, it went on to a great deal of "success". Along with the TV spots the Swiftboaters did, it was a major factor in Kerry's loss to President Bush (although, to be honest, the fact that Kerry and his campaign were so slow out of the gate in reacting to the nonsense certainly didn't help).

Corsi is back, with a book on Barack Obama. Unlike four years ago, the hounds are not silent, particularly Media Matters for America. Here's Paul Waldman on C-SPAN, doing the leg work.

The pushback against Corsi's crap has put him off balance. In a recent appearance on C-SPAN, he did two things at once. First, he claimed that Obama might jail someone who wrote a book similar to the one he has published. Second, he said, and I quote a transcript provided by Media Matters, "Where is the sense of humor here?" In other words, he hints at the dark possibility of a suppression of political opposition, and yet claims his book is nothing but a big joke. Now, of course it is, but not in the way he seems to be presenting it here. It's a joke in the sense that is 10 pounds of shit in a two pound bag. It's not a joke when it is presented as a serious examination of the biography and credentials of a major party candidate for the Office of the President of the United States that is so full of simple factual errors as to call in to question the any attempt at analysis.

The fallback to the whole "I'm just funnin'" shows just how off-balance Corsi is. If it's a joke, why should we take it seriously? If it's serious, and numerous factual errors abound, why not respond to them seriously?

In reality, Corsi is a racist hack, a conspiracy-monger, who has finally been called out. He doesn't like it very much, especially as this was supposed to be his moment to shine in the national spotlight. It's no fun having hackwork exposed as hackwork, especially racist, lying hackwork.

It may be too late for John Kerry. But, I think it is also too late for Jerome Corsi.

"[N]o borders, no rule of law, no courts, no justice and no rights whatsoever"

I stumbled upon this blog post, highlighting a most odd story that was reported on August 5.
US newspapers carried the story of the capture of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who was trained in neuroscience here in the United States. Typical of the stories was this one in the NY Times. The report was fairly neutral, but there were some gaps in the coverage which seemed a little puzzling. Dr. Siddiqui was brought back to the US and charged in a New York federal district court for the crime of shooting at FBI agents. There was no other terrorism related charge, yet she was identified as someone who worked closely with Al Qaeda.

It seems odd, a footnote to a sidelight, as it were. The writer of the piece at Cab Drollery link to this article in the UAE's Khaleej Times Online, written by Aijaz Zaka Syed, that appeared on Thursday. The article asks many questions, and includes some wild speculation that, were it not for Abu Ghraib, the many revelations of torture, Guantanamo Bay, and the general lawlessness of the last few years, would have sounded like the rantings of some paranoid schizophrenic. The simple truth is, there are so many unanswered questions, so many holes - including the fact that Dr. Siddiqui was MIA for five years - that the questions are not only important, but the speculations may not be too far off base. In any case, maybe some real journalists out there might be interested in finding out where, exactly Dr. Siddiqui has been since she went missing in 2003, and what, exactly, were the circumstances surrounding here "capture" and transportation to the US for arraignment and trial.
There are some basic questions that an ordinary mind like mine just can't seem to figure out.

First, where was Aafia Siddiqui hiding or hidden all these years - since she went missing in Karachi in March 2003? How did she turn up in the remote Ghazni province in Afghanistan, of all the God-forsaken places? And what happened to her three children?

Second, if the MIT-educated neuroscientist was indeed an Al Qaeda mastermind, why wasn't she presented in a court of law all this while? Even today when she is facing the US law, she is not being tried on terrorism charges but for allegedly assaulting the US officials. So what's her original crime, if she has indeed committed a crime?

Third, why wasn't the Pakistani government informed about her detention in Afghanistan and her subsequent deportation to the US? Or are Pakistan's Enlightened and Moderate leaders also involved in this international enterprise against a 31-year old mom of three?

There are so many gaping holes in this "case" that the US constitution, Magna Carta and the UN human rights charter can all go through them at the same time.

You abduct a completely innocent, married woman with a family and put her away for five years to conveniently discover her now as a terrorist in the lawless Afghanistan.

Elaine Whitfield Sharp, Siddiqui's lawyer, believes she has been put on trial now because she has "become a terrible embarrassment" to the US and Afghan authorities.

The question is why has she been reinvented now? It is quite possible that Siddiqui has been FOUND now because of a relentless campaign by British journalist Yvonne Ridley. Ridley herself had been a prisoner of the Taleban regime for 11 days just before the US invasion in 2001 and converted to Islam after her strange experience in Afghanistan.

Ridley has been running a campaign called Cage Prisoner for the release of a mysterious female prisoner who has been held at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in total isolation and regularly tortured for five years.

The unknown female prisoner, known as the Prisoner No. 650 or the Grey Lady of Bagram, was brought to the world attention after Ridley read about the woman in a book by fellow Briton Moazzam Begg, a former Gitmo and Bagram prisoner. In his book, Enemy Combatant, Beg talks of a woman's endless screams for help as she was tortured. Beg first thought he was imagining his wife's screams.

"We now know the screams came from a woman who has been held in Bagram for some years. And she is Prisoner No. 650," Ridley disclosed at a recent Press conference in Pakistan.

And I strongly suspect that Prisoner No. 650 is none other than Dr Aafia Siddiqui. It is quite possible that her captors decided to end her isolation after the Pakistani Press and activists like Yvonne Ridley began increasingly talking about the Prisoner No. 650 and how she was tortured and abused physically, mentally and sexually for the past four years.

I find it hard to believe all this can happen in this age and time. When one read Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel laureate who died last week, years ago and his first person account of the Soviet gulag and how they turned living human beings into humanity's refuse, one thought it could never happen in our age and time. But one is not so sure now.

If they could do this to a gifted, US-educated and trained scientist, I shudder to think of the fate of illiterate and impoverished men and women summarily picked up in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The Aafia Siddiqui case may have come to the world's attention because of some conscientious activists. But what about all those innocent individuals, who have just vanished down the black hole called the Guantanamo Bay, without a trial and without anyone looking for them? And who knows how many such gulags are out there and how many innocents they have sucked into their belly?

I do not believe the case will come to the world's attention. Perhaps I should say it might come to the world's attention, but we here in the US are far more concerned with whether Barack Obama is the world's biggest celebrity who vacations at foreign beaches in American states, taking his shirt off unlike manly American men who hide their beer guts.

Seriously, though, I think this case will not make many waves here, although it should. With its network of secret detention centers, its policy of "rendition" (sending people to other countries so they can be tortured), and the insistence that these human beings, somehow, have had their basic human rights and Constitutionally protected civil liberties revoked (the Constitution is quite clear that the protections inherent in it apply to "persons", not just citizens of the United States) because of the merest hint of some accusation, even one of association - with all this the United States under George W. Bush has left all that was best about us in the garbage heap, with the promise of more and worse under a McCain Presidency.

A couple decades ago, author Richard Rubenstein penned The Age of Triage, in which he sketched the history of the creation of what has become known as "surplus populations", the manipulation of domestic and international law to create an entire class of human beings outside the care and concern of any legal authority whatsoever. He speculated that, while the Nazi's certainly used the creation of these non-persons to a fare-thee-well, there was no reason in the world to think that they would be the last. Now, the Bush Administration, with its invention of "illegal enemy combatants" outside the jurisprudence of the Geneva Accords, has created another class of stateless, rightless non-persons.

Dr. Siddiqui may have finally surfaced in a court of law after five years of invisibility, but her appearance raises another question not asked in the article in question - how many other Dr. Siddiqui's are there out there, wasting away in our own Gulag Archipelagos?

Virtual Tin Cup

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